Chinese ‘Fugitive’ Lai Changxing Faces Deportation in Canada

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By Kaitlin Shung

Jul. 13 – Lai Changxing, described by the Globe and Mail as “one of China’s most wanted fugitives,” won an interim stay of deportation in Canada on July 11 and will face a Federal Court judge on July 21 to determine whether or not he will return to China to face charges including bribery and tax evasion.

For the last decade, Lai has been living on borrowed time, hiding out in Canada away from the criminal charges he faces in China. However, distance doesn’t appear to have made the heart grow fonder, as Chinese officials’ ardor to have Lai returned to China hasn’t cooled.

A legend in Xiamen and his nearby home village, Lai Changxing was a self-made billionaire who rode the wave of opportunity that appeared following China’s opening up and reform period in the 1980s. Lai formed an auto-parts company, the profits of which were successfully used to form dozens of new factories and plants, in everything from textiles to electronics and umbrellas.

“You could start a business in the morning and make money by the evening. Everything was so free and open back then that everyone had lots of businesses. You would be stupid not to,” he once said.

To say Lai found financial success would be an understatement, as evidenced by a lavish lifestyle and his extreme generosity. At the root of his success, Lai was not necessarily a brilliant man but rather a people person who made the right connections at the right time.

In the mid-1990s, corruption in businesses was an increasing priority for the leaders in Beijing and Lai’s lifestyle caught their attention. Premier of the time, Zhu Rongji, organized a team of investigators which descended on the city of Xiamen and spent months digging through the details of Lai’s businesses. According to Time magazine, this would eventually amount to the most expensive criminal investigation in the history of the PRC.

After being tipped off by a friend in August 1999 that he was about to be arrested, Lai and his family escaped to Hong Kong and eventually on to Canada.

Lai was accused by the Chinese government of using his businesses as a front for an elaborate smuggling business, which secretly brought US$6.4 billion worth of goods into China between 1996 and 1999. The government alleges they missed out on nearly US$3.96 billion in taxes. If returned to China, Lai faces charges of smuggling, bribery and tax evasion. Fourteen others convicted of lesser crimes – such as aiding and abetting him – have been sentenced to death, and more than 300 others have been jailed for their involvement.

“If Lai Changxing were executed three times over, it would not be too much,” former Premier Zhu Rongji said in October 2000.

As to whether or not he is actually guilty, Lai confessed to a Canadian newspaper in the past that he had been “skirting the law” but believes that he is being unfairly targeted by the government to set a precedent.

Lai’s life in Canada was originally glamorous and apparently blissful, but he was eventually arrested in Niagara Falls in November of 2000 because of immigration related issues. With his bank accounts frozen, mounting legal fees and his eventual house arrest in Canada, Lai’s life was a shadow of its glitzy past. He was refused refugee status by the Canadian government in 2002, after which his lawyers applied for a judicial review which bought him another two years in Canada.

Lai long argued that he would face torture and eventual execution at the hands of Chinese government officials. Canada has abolished the death penalty and the country prohibits the deportation of accused criminals back to countries where they will face capital punishment. As such, China has asserted that Lai will not face the death penalty if he is returned to the country.

“You cannot believe in the Chinese government…They want to get me back so they can shut me up forever,” Lai once said.

Nonetheless, his pleas were ignored until a successful appeal in 2007. At that time, a Federal Court judge ruled that the possibility of torture if Lai was returned to China was not improbable and ordered Canadian Immigration officials to conduct an in depth risk assessment.

In a surprising move, earlier this year Chinese officials agreed to allow Canadian authorities regular access to Lai in Chinese jail if he were returned. This concession will likely ensure Lai’s relative safety in jail and stands in stark contrast to the CCP’s tough stance in the past.

To date, Lai has spent more than 10 years fighting to stay in Canada and this chapter of his life is soon coming to an end. If his appeal is successful, Lai will remain in Canada – but it seems unlikely this will be the case. As to why the Chinese government is so eager to have this man returned to their custody, it has been argued that Lai’s connections reached high in the CCP and he threatens their image, which has officials on edge.